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Sunday, March 7, 2021

Nothing presidential about the debate

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It has long been rumored that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney don’t like each other. Their backgrounds are as different as night and day and their worldviews generally do not align (“Romneycare” and “Obamacare” notwithstanding). These tensions were palpable during the 2012 presidential debates. While I was pleased that Obama prevailed in that election, I believe that Romney would have been an honorable president — albeit one with whom I would have frequently disagreed.

But dislike is not the same as contempt. Tension is not the same as blatant disrespect. And Mitt Romney is not the same as Donald Trump. Trump’s performance during the first presidential debate of 2020 was … not presidential. At all. In fact, Donald Trump was beyond despicable. He acted like a petulant child — with all due respect to petulant children. He even went so low as to berate Biden’s son, Hunter, who has struggled with drug abuse. Yet, because Joe Biden is a man of character, he has already indicated that he will participate in the other two debates. I wish that he would reconsider.

Chris Wallace, who is a seasoned journalist, struggled to get Trump to stop over-talking Biden. Indeed, Wallace had to keep reminding Trump that he had agreed to “two-minute” responses. But Trump refused to abide by this agreement. (Of course, he’s well known for breaking agreements — both before and during his presidency.) Trump’s “strategy” was to endlessly attack the former vice president for anything and everything that he could think of. There wasn’t even a consistent narrative other than the fact that Biden has been a politician for a very long time. Far be it from me to offer Donald Trump advice, but had he simply stayed in that lane he likely would not have lost the debate so badly. And Trump did lose. Badly. 

Of course, the American people were the biggest losers. Presidential debates are supposed to be about an exchange of ideas; Trump turned it into a menagerie of insults. He has no plan for the present — and no vision for the future. Donald Trump wanted to be president for power, prestige and, most importantly, profit. Throughout his life, it is clear that his primary concern is what’s best for him. I digress …

In the aftermath of the debacle, I mean debate, I’ve seen several tweets that call for some version of “a return to normalcy” by electing Biden. While I understand and agree with the sentiment, it is important to point out that Trump’s demeanor, behavior, temperament and personality are “normal” for far too many people. As I’ve stated elsewhere, I initially thought people voted for him in spite of his behavior. However, it became clear that many people voted for him because of it. His base wants to maintain their “normal” — to the detriment of the rest of us.

Even more than in 2016, this presidential election will tell white people who they are. I was going to write, “This presidential election will tell us who we are as a nation.” But that would have been intellectually dishonest. The fact is that roughly 90% of African Americans — as well as roughly 75% of Hispanics, Jews and Asian Americans — will vote for Joe Biden. Those numbers tend not to shift very much during national elections. This is not a referendum on America; it is a referendum on white America. 

In short, Donald Trump could — and should — be the first Republican president in several decades to get a minority of white Americans’ votes. (Incidentally, in contrast to the popular myth, the fact is that President Obama won twice only because the overall percentage of the white vote has shrunk in recent years. Said another way, Obama was elected because people of color increased as a percentage of the electorate, not because most white people voted for him.) The question is, what kind of leader is most acceptable to white America?

I’m going to go out on a very tiny limb and predict that a slight majority of white Americans will vote for Joe Biden. That will secure the election for him. And it will signal that our nation is on an extremely long road to healing. 

Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at larry@leaf-llc.com

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